Archive | April, 2012

Getting Young Adults into Art Museums

17 Apr

Jennifer M. DePrizio is the Director of Visitor Learning at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, MA.  We recently sat down with her to chat about a question we get all of the time, “How can we get more young people through our doors and engaged at a deeper level?” Jennifer was kind enough to share her thoughts with us in the guest post below.

As the Director of Visitor Learning at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum I spend my days thinking about how we can help visitors of all ages connect with works of art in ways that are meaningful and long lasting. For those unfamiliar with the Gardner Museum, it is an imaginative recreation of an Italian palace filled with art collected and installed by Isabella Gardner in the early 20th century. The galleries, which I should mention do not have traditional wall labels and the arrangement of the objects has not been changed per the founder’s wishes, surround a lush courtyard filled with plants, flowers and ancient works of art. This past January, we opened a new Renzo Piano-designed addition that allows for more engagement with art in our studio space, a welcome space called the Living Room, special exhibition gallery, concert and lecture hall, and greenhouse classroom. How do I make this beautiful, intriguing, sometimes puzzling place accessible to our visitors?

Image courtesy Nic Lehoux 2012

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum's new Renzo Piano-designed addition. 

I’m not the only one thinking about this question. There is a lot of conversation in the museum field these days about how to engage audiences, especially young adults in their 20s and 30s. Some consider this age demographic a tough nut to crack, but I would argue it’s not so complicated. Yes, it may mean stepping outside one’s comfort zone, which traditionally museums are not so adept at, but with a little courage and willingness to take a risk, the results can be extraordinary.

This was definitely the case in 2007 when the museum launched “Gardner After Hours” with support of the Wallace Foundation. While I was not the mastermind behind the program (that credit goes to my colleague and friend Julie Crites), I was part of the core team involved in planning and execution. After Hours, which continues on the third Thursday of each month, is an evening of art, socializing, and music designed to attract those supposedly elusive 20-and-30-somethings. At its roots, After Hours is about participation and engagement; it’s about making the Gardner Museum accessible to young adults who want both a social and an art experience. As a staff member, I have enjoyed the opportunity to work on this program; I’ve been allowed to be creative, to think outside the box, to experiment, to fail, to try again and succeed.

To that end, I’ll share some of the insights about planning programming for young adult audiences that I have gained from working on After Hours. While these ideas may seem obvious, we can sometimes overlook the things that are right in front of us.

Image courtesy Clements and Howcroft 2009

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Courtyard 

1. Be authentic
Whatever you do for whatever audience, it needs to be true to who you are as an institution. For the Gardner, that meant the unique experience of the museum had to be our starting point. The collection, its unique installation, and the passions of Isabella Gardner are at the heart of what we do. I think of the museum as a salon atmosphere where curious visitors with varying degrees of art knowledge engage in conversation about art. The open-ended approach we take in our gallery games (yes, you can play games in a museum), discussions and art making projects reflect the idea that there isn’t one right answer to a work of art and that each visitor can experience art from their own perspective. If the Gardner was a different kind of museum, a white-walled gallery space or a living history museum, while our programming would have been different, our approach would have been the same. Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to be who you are.

2. Meet people where they are
Listen to your audience; they have a lot to say. Their insights and questions can inform and improve your approach and will ultimately make your program relevant and visitor-centric. To truly be accessible, you need to understand who you are serving. As part of After Hours we’ve conducted short onsite surveys during the programs, as well as a more extensive qualitative study with the target demographic which was instrumental in future program planning. Our visitors want to talk to us about their interests; I bet yours do, too.

Image courtesy Lisa Abitbol 2012

Attendees to Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum's "After Hours" event.


3. People want to meet people
One of the surprising things we discovered by talking to our visitors was that they wanted us to provide ways for them to start conversations with other visitors. I admit at first we scoffed at this—Really? We have to help people mingle? But on further thought we realized that of course, people want to meet others with similar interests and if we can help break the ice, why not? So, our thematic handout for a self-guided gallery tour has transformed into interactive gallery games. Visitors have to talk with museum volunteers and other visitors to successfully complete each game. The games are a huge hit and while I don’t think of After Hours as a singles event, we do observe groups of strangers meeting and chatting.

4. Use your resources wisely
One of the key aspects of this program’s success is that the museum’s leadership empowered staff in the target demographic to plan and execute this event. This also extends to the volunteers recruited to work these evenings. We want our audience to see themselves reflected in the staff and volunteers they encounter throughout the evening.

Illustration and design by Daniel Zeizeij

The right kind of marketing is also essential to the success of a new program like this. The museum commissioned Danijel Zezelj, one of the museum’s artists-in-residence, to create a signature image. These compelling and provocative images signaled that After Hours was new and different. We also went a bit non-traditional (for museums) in our media strategy with a heavy social media push, a mobile texting campaign, street teams handing out posters and media partnership with the local alternative newspaper rather than the mainstream daily. Directing marketing resources in new and experimental ways has paid off.

Image courtesy Lisa Abitbol 2012

Guests at Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum's "After Hours" event.

5. Don’t take yourself so seriously
We say that After Hours is “more than just a party.” This acknowledges that the event is a social one—there is a cash bar and lots of spots for relaxing and chatting with friends or a date—and that’s an important part of the evening. Museums can and should be a place where people come to unwind and escape. In a social setting, we know formal talks and tours aren’t the right thing, so instead we offer short facilitated gallery discussions and interactive games that not only provide museum content but encourage participation and conversation. Learning happens when you are engaged and making connections. Dare I say it? Learning never looked so fun.

Gardner After Hours happens every third Thursday, 5-9pm. If you’re in Boston I hope you’ll stop by soon and experience for yourself a new kind of night at the museum—its magical, its fun and its educational!

Thanks to Jennifer for this awesome post. Do you have interesting ways to attract young adults? What has worked… and what hasn’t? Please share your ideas and experiences!

Jasper Visser on how Museums Can Stay Relevant and Become Game-Changers

11 Apr

This interview is part of our “Thought Leader” series, where we get inside the heads of the best and brightest in the museum & technology world. 

Name: Jasper Visser

Jasper is a digital strategist, cultural innovator, blogger & co-founder of the strategy start-up Inspired by Coffee.

TourSphere: What was a stand-out museum/exhibit that caught your interest in 2011?

Jasper: 2011 brought a couple of surprises, I think it was a good year for culture and museums. In my own country, in Amsterdam, the photography museum Foam had an amazing exposition for their 10-year anniversary. Rather than looking back at those 10 years, they looked into the future of photography, museums and culture in general. The thing that struck me most was an amazing installation by Erik Kessels, who had printed out 1 million photos from social networks and put them, literally in piles, in a couple of rooms. Mind-blowing to see how much we share online nowadays, and the stories you can tell with this material. Earlier in 2011 Foam had an exposition specifically aimed at this, by Willem Populier, that showed the lives in photos and tweets of two teenage girls, without them knowing, by collecting everything they put online. An amazing experiment in privacy, social networking and art.

(See also)

TourSphere: What was the coolest use of technology you saw in a museum in 2011?

Jasper: Without a doubt this must have been Ron Arad’s Curtain Call in the Roundhouse in London (although I don’t know if a theatre counts as a museum). Immersive, genuine 3D projection that still felt very intimate. I’ve been promoting its transfer to Holland ever since I spent 2 hours marveling at its beauty. Google it to see what it’s like.

A good runner-up is the National Museum of Jewish American History in Philadelphia which I could finally visit this year. The interactives are designed by the amazing people at Local Projects (New York) and they do the trick. A must-see if you’re talking about engagement, participation and technology, in my opinion.

(See LP’s portfolio)

TourSphere: Is there an app or a technology that has changed the way you do things or made your job easier this year?

Jasper: For me, I guess 2011 was the year I discovered the true potential of location-based services. At the beginning of the year I did a highly-successful experiment with Foursquare, and later in the year we launched xwashier, our own mobile app which was a huge hit.

I think location based technology offers a lot of new opportunities to tell engaging and meaningful stories about collections, communities, cities, etc. I see quite some cool start-ups working with this technology and I think the best is still to come.

TourSphere: Apple or Android?

Jasper: Hahhahhah, Apple, of course.

TourSphere: If you had to sum up what you think the theme for museums in 2012 will be in one word, what would your prediction be?

Jasper: Consolidation. (A lot of the different projects we’ve done, experiments we’ve run and loose ends we’ve created will be combined, hopefully, into integrated strategies. Playtime’s over, now it’s time to really reach new target groups, truly engage with our audience, be successful.)

TourSphere: What do you see as the biggest challenge for museums in the coming years?

Jasper: I think the biggest challenge for museums, as for any organisation, in the coming years is to stay relevant to people in our changing world. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, and at the heights of the social media and web 2.0 revolution, the changes in the way we do business in culture (and elsewhere) that have become apparent in the past 10 years have gained enough momentum to become real game-changers in the coming years. Are you still with me? It means that unless we really make fundamental changes in the way we work, we will become irrelevant.

Fortunately, the solution to this challenge is becoming clearer all the time as well. We have to build sustainable and meaningful relationships with our audiences, via new and traditional media, our projects and campaigns and our buildings. We have to implement the new business models that are being discovered for the 21st century. And, most importantly, we have to become innovative institutions at the heart of society, not conservative bastions at the outskirts.

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with us, Jasper.  Can’t wait to see more from Inspired by Coffee.

Follow Jasper and his work at:


Blog:Museum of the Future

Planning a DIY Mobile App for Visitors

5 Apr

So you’ve decided to create a mobile app to enhance the visitor experience – that’s great! Now what? Well, a little strategizing can go a looong way. Sure, you can always go with an on the fly, kitchen sink approach, but we often find that method to be a little frustrating – often accompanied by a lot of backpedaling. With a little forethought and communication the process can be quite smooth.

Get ideas for your app

One of the best ways to think about how to approach your smartphone app is to look at what other people are creating. Remember, all apps had a planning stage, and it’s a great to see the end result. Navigate various mobile apps and note things you like – and dislike – about them.

As you go through existing apps, you’ll begin to see they have elements in common:

  • a home or introductory page
  • a list of services or points of interest
  • a property map
  • an about us or contact page, or both!

You also have to remember that as an organization, you are connected to hundreds, if not thousands, of people – you are in a prime position to gather info. Ask your future users what they would like to see or hear in your app. Ask your front end and floor staff what questions your visitors are asking and what suggestions they are making – you’ll probably begin to see a pattern.

Think about your content

Now that you’ve done a little research, ask yourself some questions:

  • What type of content do I already have access too? (Are you converting an audio guide into a smartphone app? Do you have videos? Photos? Text for all of your pages?)
  • What additional content do I need to complete my app?
  • Is it important to give users quick access to visitor information such as hours and contact info? What about certain points of contact once your visitor has arrived?
  • How many tours/routes will I have? How many points of interest will there be?
  • Do I need a map to accompany my app? How many? (Do I want to use the geo-locate capabilities of a Google map because there are outdoor points of interest? Do I have access to a custom map for your property?)
  • Do I want my users to access an RSS feed or blog to stay up to date with ongoing events?
  • Would my organization benefit from responses from a survey?
  • Is there a need for a keypad? Are my points of interest numbered and easy to spot?
  • How can I use the app to further promote my organization?

Determine the flow of your app

You may find it helpful to visualize what your final app will look like. You don’t need any fancy tools to do this, the classic pen and paper approach will work just fine! If you’re not crazy about showing off your drawing skills, opt for something more sophisticated. You can always download a free trial version of a mockup program, like Balsamiq.

Try creating a mockup of the general flow of your app – begin with your “Home” page and the main navigation buttons – think about how visitors will use them to navigate your app and your museum or property. What features of your app should be highlighted and easy to find?

Your mockup will serve as a your blueprint while building your app.

Gather your content

Once you have a general idea of the direction your app will take, and have determined what content you need – pull it all together! When you get started with your app, one way to keep it moving smoothly is organization and making sure your assets are the proper quality, file types, and ready to be placed in your app.

It helps to organize your files in an orderly way. Simple, easy to identify, and consistent naming conventions are very helpful. Think about other contributors that are helping you create the app. If they were to look at all the files you’ve gathered, would they be able to determine which files go where?

Now that you’re a few step closer to creating your app, don’t forget, one of the many benefits of creating your own app is that you have the flexibility to change your mind!

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